Classic Canadian literature and the sexual being: Bear by Marian Engel

Bear… she was still not satisfied that this was how the only life she had been offered should be lived.

I often see this novel dismissed as ridiculous and racy in the wrong way; after all, bestiality is one of the sexual taboos that has retained its power across time and cultural difference. Whenever I mention reading this book, I’m met with the same snide response: Isn’t that the book about the woman who has sex with a bear?

And I mean, that’s not wrong. It is, in fact, about a woman who has sex with a bear.

But to stop at that description does the novel an enormous disservice. Bear is a parable of female sexuality – an intense and shocking allegory, sure, but there is so much more you can do with this novel than read it as a literal account of bestiality.

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Cover to Cover with On The Road

Kerouac_by_Palumbo_2In all honesty, On the Road isn’t really my cup of tea – stylistically, it felt more like a list than a novel. We went to X party, and met Y people, and I kissed Z girl, and then I slept on Q’s couch, and afterwards caught a bus to N town, where we went to X party, and met Y people… you get the idea. When it comes to the Beats, I prefer Burroughs or Ginsberg – although I have to admit I have yet to read Howl in its entirety (I swear it’s on the list!).

In any case, On the Road is a classic, and I’m glad I read it – even if I like the covers better than the novel itself. The theme seems to be photographs and collages, and I dig it.

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Cover to Cover with King Lear

As one of the most prolific and familiar authors ever, it’s high time that I took a look at some Shakespeare covers. Are you ready for a slew of angry and sad old men? Because that seems to be the theme of King Lear covers.

But I mean, I would be angry and sad too if I split my kingdom up between my daughters only to have them turn on me and cast me out into a raging storm. Even worse is realizing that you’ve alienated and banished the only people who really care about you. Even worse is when everyone seems to kick the bucket at around the same time – although that’s just par for the course in a Shakespearean tragedy.

Anyway. On to the angry and sad old men. It’s nice to see that at least a few of the covers portray Lear in his delightful crown of wildflowers – one of the few parts of the play where he actually gets to seem, you know, happy.

Cambridge edition   Graphic Novel edition   Illustrated edition Continue reading

Cover to Cover with The Metamorphosis

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bowlike sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It was no dream.

The Metamorphosis is the classic tale of a man who wakes up as a giant beetle. At first, his family is unperturbed and find great pleasure in caring for Gregor. As time passes, however, they grow bored with having an insect upstairs and slowly neglect him. The book ends with Gregor wasting away into nothing – both physically and emotionally starving to death. How’s that for terrifying?

Unsurprisingly, many of the official covers draw on beetle imagery:

Recent official redesign Peter Mendelsund's cover Original cover

I’ve always been fond of Peter Mendelsund’s minimalist cover (centre), which also appears on an Out of Print shirt I’ve always coveted. 

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